Would I know it if I saw it? What to look for in high quality youth development programs

High quality out-of-school and camp programs offer much more than a safe place for children to have fun.  Today the best programs are built on the principals of positive youth development (PYD).

What is PYD you ask? When conducting an online search for “positive youth development,” you will likely find a wide range of definitions and approaches. For me, positive youth development is a guiding view or philosophy that considers each child as someone who can contribute immediately to the community, as well as someone who—with appropriate guidance and support—can grow and develop into a more content and competent individual.

Let’s compare an “old-school” versus PYD view of what healthy development and appropriate behavior look like.  In the past, a “good” child was thought of as someone who did what they were told, didn’t interfere with others, and generally didn’t cause any trouble. Little or no consideration was given to whether the child was happy, learning, growing, or developing to reach their maximum potential. In contrast, from a PYD standpoint, if and how an individual is progressing towards their ultimate ability level is of much greater concern than moment-by-moment behaviors, moods, or choices.

The reality is that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” end goal to development. From a positive youth development prospective, each individual is seen as already having something(s) to offer society or the larger group, and the goal of the staff and program at large is to increase each child’s creativity, skills, and confidence to enable them to grow in their capacity to contribute.

Positive youth development professionals also understand that not every child is or will be good at the same things, but rather that every child is good at certain things. Helping each child to realize their unique talents, increase their social competency, foster life skills and a sense of efficacy, and encouraging the child to realize their potential, is what drives and guides the best youth development professionals and programs.